How the 2014 General Session impacted business

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

The Utah business community commends the Utah legislature for another great year for business. The 2014 General Session wrapped up in March, and the newly released Salt Lake Chamber 2014 Legislative Scorecard highlights how the business community’s policy priorities fared.

“Utah’s economy 
is in a spectacular position because
 of the leadership 
of our Governor, Legislature and
 our great business community working together to bring compromise for important progress for our state,” said Lane Beattie, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber.

The Salt Lake Chamber Vote website monitored the course of 298 bills that had an impact on business through the legislative session. Through that website tool, more than 9,800 emails were sent to state representatives, asking them to act on policy decisions. Eleven of 13 business community priority bills passed, and the average of “yes” votes on priority bills stood at 83 percent. With a 93 percent passage of supported bills, 2014 was an excellent year for Utah’s business community.

Here’s what the Utah’s Legislature helped accomplish this year:

STRENGTHENED COMMITMENT TO EDUCATION

•  Provided $62 million to public education, increasing the weighted pupil unit by 2.5 percent and
another $62 million to fund 10,300 new students
• Invested toward goal of 66 percent of adults with a postsecondary degree or certificate, providing $50 million to equalize funding and increase capacity in our state’s higher education institutions
• Expanded efforts to reach goals of 90 percent proficiency in reading and math among Utah students, allocating more than $7 million for preschool and early intervention programs for at-risk children, and $20 million to STEM education

ENHANCED COMMUNITY AND ECONOMIC PROSPERITY

• Approved a multi-decade effort to support the development of a convention center hotel, benefiting
the entire state
• Authorized $400,000 in business marketing, corporate recruitment and business expansion efforts, as well as $15 million in tourism marketing
• Addressed critical community issues through investing $100,000 to incentivize employers to hire the homeless
• Tackled issues of panhandling and solicitation around Utah’s highways and sidewalks that negatively impact the ability to conduct business in a safe manner
• Partnered to fund $400,000 for the Your Utah, Your Future quality growth initiative

ACTED TO IMPROVE AIR QUALITY

• Funded a $500,000 air quality education campaign
• Provided $1 million in scientific research to help better understand the causes of air pollution
• Established a $200,000 fund to help small businesses reduce air emissions through new technologies and programs
• Created a $250,000 fund to incentivize the conversion of sole-source wood burning homes to cleaner energy heating
• Addressed mobile emissions through enabling enhanced infrastructure for electric vehicles,
providing tax credits to purchase alternative fuel vehicles and mandating 50 percent of the State’s vehicle fleet to be highly efficient vehicles by 2015

ESTABLISHED PLATFORM FOR FUTURE ACTION

• Jump-started a robust conversation to address both the $11.3 billion funding gap outlined in the 2040 Unified Transportation Plan and the significant need for increased education funding
• Moved toward improving Utah’s air quality and set the stage for further discussions on issues such as Tier 3 fuels and improving statewide transit systems

The 2014 Legislative Scorecard also has a bill-by-bill tally of priority bills and their impacts on Utah business. To see the PDF of the 2014 Legislative Scorecard, click here

 

The 2014 Public Policy Guide and business priorities released

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

The Salt Lake Chamber released the business community’s priorities for the upcoming General Legislative Session within the 2014 Public Policy Guide. The Public Policy Guide was presented to the speaker of the House of Representatives Rebecca Lockhart and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser Wednesday morning. The guide outlines the Chamber’s position on policy issues including economic development, education, transportation, water, energy and minerals, clean air, outdoor recreation and tourism, Downtown Rising, immigration, international competitiveness, and small business.

“The 2014 Public Policy Guide is a Chamber publication, but it represents the broad-based support of chambers of commerce across the state as well as other important business associations,” said Lane Beattie, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber. “These are the priorities of Utah’s diverse business sectors from across the state and it’s critical that we speak with one voice.”

View and download the 2014 Public Policy Guide PDF here.

Economic Development 
Economic development and job creation is the cornerstone priority for Utah’s business community. The 2014 Public Policy Guide highlights and supports the “Your Utah, Your Future” quality growth strategy, initiated by Gov. Gary Herbert and Envision Utah, in taking the long-term view on public policy issues. The guide also outlines priorities that will facilitate economic growth and strengthen the economy, including a continued stance against general tax increases not supported by the public, a commitment to eliminating harmful regulation and a collaborative challenge to enhance Utah’s competitiveness through attracting regional corporate headquarters to the state.

“Utah’s economy is extremely well-positioned for continued growth in 2014. The private-sector is set to accomplish the significant goal of creating 150,000 jobs since the recession–more than a year ahead of schedule,” said Natalie Gochnour, chief economist of the Salt Lake Chamber and associate dean of the University of Utah David Eccles School of Business. “However, Utah’s economy faces economic headwinds from our nation’s capital and risks economic hardship if we do not address our education system and transportation infrastructure.”

Prosperity 2020
An educated workforce has a direct correlation with economic prosperity and is a top priority for Utah’s business community. To be globally competitive, Utah must return to a top-10 state in overall education rankings. To meet this challenge, the Chamber outlines key priorities to improve: 4th grade reading scores; 8th grade math scores; high school completion and college and career readiness; innovative teaching in public education; and Utah’s ability to reach 66 percent of Utahns with postsecondary degrees or certificates.

“Investing in our children is the best investment we can make as a community,” said Alan Hall, Chair ofProsperity 2020, founder and co-managing director of Mercato Partners, and chairman of Marketstar. “Facing unprecedented growth, we need to ensure that the largest population of young people in the country will be deployed as the best educated workforce, propelling Utah to enduring prosperity.”

Prosperity 2020 and the business community, through school-business partnerships, can improve school environments and boost outcomes for students. In addition to advocacy, the Utah business community has developed partnerships that support our education system and improve outcomes. The guide highlights how businesses across the state are becoming directly involved in the educational success of Utah’s children through a myriad of partnerships, including tutoring students, volunteering in classrooms, sponsoring activities, advising programs of study, providing internships and funding scholarships.

“Utah’s business leaders understand the urgency of addressing our education challenges,” said Beattie. “As a strong backer of the Prosperity 2020 movement, we are very supportive of the priorities and commitment of the Legislature’s Education Taskforce and will work to make these policies a reality.”

Transportation
Recent completions of major transportation initiatives have made Utah a national example in our commitment to disciplined planning and investment in transportation infrastructure. As one of the fastest growing states in the nation, continued investments are critical to economic growth and accommodating future generations of Utahns.

“Our community continues to rapidly grow,” said H. David Burton, co-chair of the Utah Transportation Coalition.  “We must act now to ensure future generations can enjoy economic prosperity and a high quality of life.”

The guide outlines support for a five-year action plan to fully fund Utah’s prioritized transportation needs identified in Utah’s 2040 Unified Transportation Plan. This action plan includes allowing local governments to address their urgent transportation challenges, investments to improve our transit system, and a call for the expansion and inflation-adjustment of user fees to meet critical needs.

“Investments in transportation infrastructure benefit every aspect of our economy,” said David Golden, co-chair of the Utah Transportation Coalition, and executive vice president and manager of Wells Fargo Commercial Banking Group’s Mountain Division. “The need for investment is critical and requires immediate action in order to sustain and enhance our world-class business and economic climate.”

Natural Resource Business Council
Utah’s spectacular natural environment is a legacy passed to us from preceding generations and is a key component of the state’s economy and high quality of life. The guide is the debut of the Chamber’s Natural Resource Business Council, which represents a comprehensive approach to the state’s natural environment and important sectors of Utah’s economy. The Chamber’s clean air and energy and minerals task forces, as well as two new Chamber initiatives in Water and Outdoor Recreation and Tourism, are organized under the Council.

“Utah’s natural resources provide Utah families with unparalleled life quality and economic opportunities,” said Senate President Wayne Niederhauser. “We owe future generations our best stewardship efforts to ensure they enjoy the same advantages we now enjoy.”

The Natural Resource Business Council priorities include developing a long-term vision on Utah’s water needs, enhancing rural economic development, improving transportation options to Utah’s energy rich Uinta Basin, supporting Utah’s tourism marketing and addressing air quality issues.

Specifically, the guide highlights the Chamber’s support for: the PM2.5 State Implementation Plan, increased transportation funding to improve our transit system and reduce idling on Utah’s roadways, cleaner vehicles, increased efforts for public awareness and research, and incentives to facilitate small businesses’ participation in emission reductions.

“Air quality for many Utahns’ is the state’s most pressing issue,” said Beattie. “Clean air makes good business sense and the Utah business community is committed to being a champion for improving our air quality.”

The 2014 Public Policy guide is available online at www.slchamber.com/PPG2014.

Here are some photos from the event where we presented speaker of the House of Representatives Rebecca Lockhart and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser:

Approaching a New Year with the Same Challenges

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013

Editor’s note: This post was authored by Darin Mellott, sr. analyst at CBRE.

Approaching the end of the fourth quarter, many begin to look forward to a new year and wonder what it will bring. Unfortunately, for the last several years, the United States has struggled with many of the same issues year after year. Issues such as international competitiveness, putting people back to work and addressing the federal budget are often talked about during elections, but policymakers have not adequately addressed these challenges. Consequently, many of the same issues continue to cause problems over and over again. This is the reality that businesses and households alike are dealing with and it is restraining growth. As a commercial real estate analyst, it’s clear that the negative impact on the broader economy is weighing on local markets as well.

Just last month, the inability of policymakers to employ any kind of strategy or long-term budgeting lead to a 16 day partial shutdown of the federal government. Even more threatening to the nation’s economic health, the possibility of a U.S. default was raised. The purpose of this column is not to rehash what happened last month or remind people that national policymakers have been less than ideal stewards, or even leaders for that matter. However, it should be noted that their inability to perform their jobs well (collectively speaking) is having an impact on the national and local economies.

Concerns of Senior Executives
It is clear that by September, executives began to anticipate an ugly budget fight. In September, McKinsey & Co. released their “Economic Conditions Snapshot.” In the report, North American executives considered domestic political conflict as the second greatest threat to growth, behind geopolitical conflict. This was during a time when it was unclear whether or not the U.S. would undertake military action in the Syrian conflict.

The concerns of senior executives were also captured in the Business Roundtable’s Q3, 2013 CEO Survey. In that survey CEO’s indicated they were growing more pessimistic about growth during the coming six months. Anticipating a less optimistic picture, fewer chief executives expected a pick-up in demand for their products and indicated less willingness to increase capital expenditures during the coming months. All of this was before the government shutdown. Just the prospect of such an occurrence was enough to impact sentiment among business leaders!

Outside of the boardroom, consumers were also growing more pessimistic. According to the University of Michigan’s survey of consumer confidence, sentiment began deteriorating in August and reached its lowest point in two years by November.

Local Impact
On a local level, we are not immune to the effects of trouble on the national level. From where I sit, broader market indicators continue to improve. However, the rate of improvement for one key commercial real estate indicator began slowing in the local office market after the first quarter and continued to slow through the third quarter. That indicator (net absorption) measures space leased vs. space vacated and is a good measure of growth.  While some of the sluggishness can be explained by examining structural changes (particularly in office markets), this does not account for all of the softening.

Similarly, growth in the local industrial market, while consistent and steady has not been accelerating. This tells me that the cautious executive sentiment reflected in the two surveys previously mentioned is also shared by local business leaders.

Unnecessary Headwinds
How much of an impact shenanigans in Washington have on the broader economy is frequently examined and debated. Even still, it is safe to say that things could be a lot better if policymakers in Washington were more effective.

Unfortunately, the resolution to the most recent drama was short-term. By December 13, a budget conference committee is expected to agree to a path moving forward. By January 15, a continuing resolution which allowed the federal government to reopen will expire. Last, but certainly not least consequential, the debt ceiling will need to be addressed by February 7.

The anticipation of coming budget fights will create unnecessary headwinds going into an important time of year for the economy. Unfortunately the last resolution followed a similar pattern of deferring big decisions and then revisiting them soon after. We should all hope that coming budget talks yield results that will allow for an extended period of calm from Washington. If they are able to deliver in that respect, then 2014 could have some good upside potential.

Building Utah’s broadband network

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

Earlier this year, Utah’s “Silicon Slopes” became a worldwide brand when Internet giant Google announced Google Fiber in Provo. Google is known throughout the world for its Internet search engine, business applications and many other products. However, the company’s decision to invest millions of dollars in Provo’s existing broadband network boiled down to one point: broadband and high-speed Internet are critical to the global competitiveness of any economy.

“From rivers and ports, to our modern freeway system or electricity, businesses have relied on a variety of infrastructures over time to stay competitive,” said Lane Beattie, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber. “Broadband is today’s infrastructure to support globally competitive businesses.”

Before Google’s investment, companies such as CenturyLink, Comcast, Xmission and other providers in the state have pushed Utah into the upper-echelon of both access and speed for broadband.

“Utah has an extensive broadband network that, in addition to low energy prices and an educated workforce, is helping to attract businesses to the state,” said Kelleigh Cole, manager of the Utah Broadband Project. “The Utah Broadband Project works with communities, providers and users to leverage what is already the fastest Internet in the West to further grow Utah’s economy.”

This focus has led to an elaborate mapping effort by the Utah Broadband Project to act as clearinghouse for identifying challenges to further development of the state’s broadband infrastructure. The Utah Broadband Project is also developing a statewide broadband plan that will ensure Utah remains on the cutting edge of this vital technology infrastructure.

“Along the Wasatch Front, businesses have a variety of choices for their broadband services,” said Cole. “What most people don’t realize is that in Utah, many rural communities are highly connected, allowing businesses in all parts of the state the ability to compete in a global market place.”

As the Utah Broadband Project works to strengthen Utah’s economy and ensure businesses stay globally competitive, the project is planning the 2013 Utah Broadband Summit on October 24th in Provo. The Summit will feature workshops to help community planners, economic developers, government officials, business leaders, educators, and other stakeholders learn strategies to improve broadband access and technology usage.

For more information about the summit and to register visit: http://broadband.utah.gov/about/events/2013summit/

Transportation investment could add 183,000 jobs to Utah’s economy

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

Editor’s note: This article was written by Gaylen Webb for EDCUtah and appeared in the Utah Pulse on Oct. 8, 2013. 

A recent study by the Economic Development Research Group of Boston shows Utah could nearly double its return of investment on the state’s transportation infrastructure by 2040. Simply put: for every dollar spent on transportation infrastructure, the state could turn around an ROI of $1.94.

“Anytime you can trade someone $1 for $1.94, you make that trade,” says Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Lane Beattie.

According to the study, which can be read here, if state and local governments and transportation agencies fully implement Utah’s Unified Transportation Plan 2011-2040, the result will be a dramatic and positive economic impact over the next three decades. In fact, if the Unified Transportation plan is fully funded, the state would see a return on investment of nearly 183,000 new jobs created in Utah by 2040. Those would include 55,000 construction jobs and more than 91,000 other jobs created by improvements in transportation performance. Another 17,000 jobs would be created by enhanced access to markets for Utah firms, and more than 19,000 jobs would be added by new businesses attracted to Utah because of improved transportation conditions.

“If you look at the sheer numbers, the outcome is pretty impressive,” says Marty Carpenter, executive vice president of communication at the Salt Lake Chamber. The study projects the state would experience:

  • $130.5 billion in additional household income
  • $183.6 billion in additional gross domestic product
  • $22 billion in additional tax revenues from economic growth

As Beattie points out, Utah would receive an estimated return on investment of $1.94 in non-construction GDP gain per $1 invested in transportation infrastructure. That is based on the analysis of private sector transportation costs that can be saved if the Unified Transportation Plan is implemented as envisioned. The comprehensive plan, which can be read here, has four strategic goals: preserve infrastructure, optimize mobility, improve safety and strengthen the economy.

“The Utah Unified Transportation Plan is really quite detailed,” says Carpenter. “It covers everything from smaller roads, bike paths and big rail projects–all of the things we should look at doing in order to have the transportation infrastructure that will support the population growth we can expect.”

The Economic Development Research Group’s study was commissioned by the Utah Transportation Coalition, a group started by the Salt Lake Chamber in 2012 to bring transportation stakeholders together with businesses that recognize the impact transportation infrastructure will have on their long-term ability to succeed. Carpenter says the coalition is working with elected officials, stakeholders and other businesses to help them understand there is a gap between the funds the state has committed for transportation infrastructure, recognize what is needed to fully fund the Unified Transportation Plan and to help them find ways to close the gap.

Utah currently has about $43 billion committed toward transportation infrastructure between now and 2040, when the Unified Transportation Plan would be finished. But, he says, a total of $54.7 billion is needed to create a transportation system that will allow Utah’s economy to reach its full potential.

“Our current funding leaves us a shortfall of $11.3 billion–the gap between what we need to have to maximize our return on investment and what we actually have planned,” he explains. “Based upon the study, if we can come up with that additional $11.3 billion, we get an extra 182,000-plus jobs created by 2040. Seventy percent of those jobs are attributable to improved transportation performance, while 30 percent are from construction spending.”

This isn’t the first time the Salt Lake Chamber has taken an active role in pushing for funds to improve Utah’s transportation infrastructure. The Chamber played a critical role in the passage of Proposition 3 in 2006, which accelerated the construction of the Mountain View Corridor and helped fund five TRAX light rail projects in Salt Lake County and the FrontRunner commuter rail project from the Intermodal Hub in Salt Lake into Utah County.

“As a business association, we recognize that the long-term economic strength of our state depends on our ability to maintain and continue to build a strong transportation infrastructure, particularly because we know our population is going to double in the next 30 years,” says Carpenter. “With that knowledge comes the responsibility to speak today about what the congestion could look like and what we can do about it. We must work today to make sure gridlock doesn’t happen.”

Utah is currently in a great position, he adds, because the state has invested well over the past decade and is ahead of the curve on transportation. Over the past 10 years strong partnerships have been forged, along with a strong understanding of the importance of transportation infrastructure. Nonetheless, without adequately funding the Unified Transportation Plan, Utahns can expect increased transportation stress and continued air quality problems as the population grows to an anticipated 3 million people along the Wasatch Front over the next three decades.

While adding more roads is only part of the transportation plan, Carpenter says it would be non sequitur for some people to connect additional roads with improved air quality. “You are going to have people in cars regardless,” he says. “Giving them more transportation options is essential, but so is keeping them from sitting in congestion. Cars sitting on over-crowded roads are still burning fuel and putting emissions in the air. If we keep cars and trucks moving as efficiently as possible, it saves commuters and businesses money and reduces the amount of emissions they put in the air.”

Carpenter says federal funding is declining as they work toward the $11.3 billion shortfall in transportation investment, but the study lays out a variety of alternative concepts. The Transportation Coalition, he notes, hasn’t settled on one particular mechanism. “We are more interested in showing the Legislature a number of options they have and to give our best counsel as to what those options will entail,” he says. “Ultimately, I am sure as that field of options narrows we’ll take a position, but at this point that is preliminary. It is more important to help lawmakers understand the issues we face, see what their options are, and present them with good information about the path forward.”

Chamber applauds SLC-UTA programs to increase transit ridership

Friday, October 4th, 2013

This morning, the Salt Lake Chamber took part in a news conference to announce a program to help Salt Lake City residents take advantage of transit opportunities. The program would increase the number of riders, provide reduced fare and have an impact in several important policy areas to strengthen our economy.

Chamber Executive Vice President Marty Carpenter told reporters there are two things the business community appreciates: when a great deal comes together so everyone wins and maximization of the return on an investment.

He says this agreement between SLC and UTA will further increase already strong ridership and will help more SLC residents utilize a world class transportation system.

As for maximizing ROI… that usually makes people think of the bottom line dollar amount–the profit. But that’s not always the case. The return on our investment in our transit system is greater than that, touching transportation (relieving pressure on our roads), energy (reducing our energy consumption), air quality (fewer tailpipes means cleaner air), economic development (preserving our natural beauty that attracts top talent and businesses from around the country) all while improving our health, to help contain the cost of health care.

It’s a winning deal for everyone.

The Chamber applauds Mayor Becker for his leadership and UTA for constantly finding new ways to run the nation’s best transit authority.

Here’s the official news release from the Mayor’s Office.

Mayor Proposes New Residential Transit Pass Program to Address Air Quality

SALT LAKE CITY – On Friday, Oct. 4, Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker announced a fresh solution to help improve air quality – a new type of transit pass that may soon be available to Salt Lake City residents, helping minimize the number of car trips that contribute to poor air conditions.

Mayor Becker proposed an innovative partnership with Utah Transit Authority to offer the new transit pass option. Under the plan, Salt Lake City residents would be eligible to purchase a one-year transit pass for $360. Residents could pay all at once or in 12 installments of $30/month, charged to their utility bill. This would be the first pass to be offered to municipal residents as a group, although the plan is modeled after similar bulk pass programs offered by UTA.

The purpose of the pass is to incentivize use of mass transit and improve air quality. Studies show residents are more likely to utilize mass transit when they are pass-holders. The pass would be good for UTA’s regular bus, TRAX and FrontRunner services. In just six round trips per month, residents could break even on their investment. There would be no limit on the number of passes purchased per household.

Mayor Becker was joined for the announcement by Councilman Stan Penfold, the City Council sponsor of the proposal; Utah Transit Authority General Manager Michael Allegra; Breathe Utah Executive Director Erin Mendenhall; Salt Lake Chamber Executive Vice President of Communication Marty Carpenter and other community leaders. Attendees lauded the program as an important step toward creating sustainable solutions to Salt Lake City’s air quality challenges.

The residential pass is proposed as a one-year pilot program and, if approved by the City Council, is expected to launch in early 2014. UTA expects that up to 6,000 passes could be sold.

 

Historical preservation and the Utah economy

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

As a 126-year-old business association, the Salt Lake Chamber has a high level of appreciation for Utah’s rich history. And it takes a significant effort to preserve that history.

A new study conducted by the Utah Heritage Foundation says the active preservation of our history is actually a benefit to our economy.

Donovan Rypkema, an economist and the principal of PlaceEconomics, the Washington, D.C., firm that conducted the study, joins us to discuss the economic benefit of historical preservation projects, the potential for growth and the difference between something being “historic” or just “old.”

You can find the study HERE.

 

The Economist lauds Utah economy

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

As Utahns headed out of the office for a long holiday weekend, one of the most respected economic publications was busy singing the state’s praises.

The Economist published an article entitled, “Busy Bees,” a look at what has Utah’s economy growing and its unemployment rate shrinking.

“Indeed, Utah and its cities regularly top national rankings of business-friendliness. Officials gush about low taxes, wages and energy costs, light regulations, and enterprising spirits. All this, along with some generous tax sweeteners, has seduced the likes of Boeing, Procter & Gamble and eBay into the state. “We really value capitalism,” says Spencer Eccles, head of the governor’s economic development office.

“Yet it is a peculiarly cuddly form of capitalism. Income inequality is lower in Utah than any other state, and a recent Harvard/Berkeley study found that economic mobility was higher in Salt Lake City than in any other big American city. “People here aren’t trying to be Donald Trump,” says Stephen Kroes, president of the Utah Foundation, a think-tank. Thanks partly to the Mormon influence, Utahns volunteer more than anyone else.”

The article also points out Utah students “perform better than funding levels alone would predict.” Business leaders have long recognized the importance of education to our long-term economic prospects. That’s why 20 chambers of commerce, including the Salt Lake Chamber, as well as other business associations have organized the Prosperity 2020 movement to encourage greater investment, innovation and accountability in education.

You can read the full article from The Economist here.

 

The business of building a city: Downtown Rising

Friday, July 19th, 2013

Editor’s note: this post is authored by Darin Mellott, senior research analyst at CBRE and a member of the Utah Economic Council. It was originally published on ksl.com

Tuesday I attended the inaugural downtown symposium which was organized by the Downtown Alliance. There was much to celebrate in the way of accomplishments at the symposium. However the Salt Lake Chamber’s President and CEO, Lane Beattie, asked a very important question: what comes next?

Anyone living, working or spending significant amounts of time in downtown Salt Lake City can attest to the significant amount of change and progress experienced in the area during the last several years. From new office towers to City Creek Center, Salt Lake’s downtown not only looks different, but feels different. It can also be said that people are looking at downtown in a different way than they have in the past.

Inspired by my own experiences and the symposium, allow me to approach the topic of downtown from my area of expertise: commercial real estate. Professionals at the firm where I work (CBRE) inform me that while consulting with their clients, more businesses are asking themselves whether or not they should be downtown. This is an important observation, because there is a convergence of need and capacity.

In the office sector, an uptick in organizations searching for larger blocks of space has been observed. While there are areas of high vacancy, blocks of contiguous space can be challenging to find, especially when factoring in the unique needs of certain companies. Due to tenants using space more efficiently and some relocations, larger blocks of space are available in downtown Salt Lake City.

In addition to the raw space requirements, businesses are sensitive to quality of space. As organizations are becoming more attuned to the needs and preferences of “Gen Y”, overall office environment is becoming more important. Areas with a “cool” factor are in high demand and maintain lower vacancy rates. Not only is the area’s reputation improving, but there is a cool factor to being downtown again.

Furthermore, as businesses continue to operate in an uncertain environment, expenses are in focus. From a commercial real estate perspective, companies are looking to increase productivity and maintain lower costs. This is accomplished through new workspace strategies. While these strategies re-imagine what the workplace should look like, they are also advantageous to businesses because space is used more efficiently.

This is where public transportation becomes more important. Access to public transportation is now a common requirement for tenants. With higher concentrations of employees, parking becomes an issue. Locations with sufficient parking for such requirements are in low supply. Consequently, organizations looking to increase the density and efficiency of workplaces are becoming more aware of the challenges presented by new strategies.

Public transportation is an important component of efforts to address the challenge of accommodating more employees in smaller amounts of space. With multiple TRAX lines (including connectivity to an international airport), FrontRunner and bus connections, accessibility to downtown is unmatched. These are just a few of the trends moving forward that will favor downtown Salt Lake City from a commercial real estate perspective.

Aside from commercial real estate, downtown Salt Lake has so much going for it. I always marvel at the majestic backdrop of Salt Lake, with the Wasatch Mountains towering over the city. When I travel, I enjoy the connectivity enjoyed as a hub city of one of the world’s largest airlines. My easy commute is possible because of strategic investments in infrastructure. Furthermore, the local area’s economy continues to perform well, adding to a vibrant feel in the community and enabling continued progress.

Going back to its beginnings, Salt Lake City has a tradition of moving beyond challenges to a level of admirable success. However, Lane Beattie’s rhetorical question remains valid: what’s next? That’s the question of the day. As Lane correctly pointed out, there are no guarantees for the future.

Fortunately, a collaborative spirit seems to be embedded in the city’s DNA. The kind of cooperation and coordination that made the 2002 Winter Olympic Games a success is still here. While we can be proud of the city’s past achievements, I was reminded that a focus on the future must be maintained. The ingredients for success are here on a practical and conceptual level.

Now it’s time to take advantage of current opportunities and imagine the future. There are many decisions that need to be made and issues addressed, whether talking about a convention hotel, investments in infrastructure (particularly transit) and of course, education.

All of these things will determine the future ability of the city to continue thriving. In my opinion, not only does Salt Lake City have the ability to grow and prosper, but this city and state serve as remarkable examples of what can happen when reasonable people work together for the common good.

 

Utah economy continues growth, transportation investment key

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

Just last Friday, the state released the latest jobs report and while Utah’s job growth slowed to 2.6 percent–marking the first time in several months we’ve been below our historical average–the unemployment rate dropped again and is now down to just 4.6 percent.

That number is important because we’re inching closer to that level economists call “full employment.” We’ve also seen the number of Utahns out of work drop from over 100,000 at the height of the recession, down to just over 60,000. Still too many; but that’s notable progress.

Utah’s growing in more ways than one. We have one of the fastest growing populations in the country and that is both a tremendous opportunity and tremendous challenge. You may have hear the phrase, “if you build it, they will come.” Well, in Utah it’s more like, “they’re coming, so you better build it.” With the state’s population set to double by 2040, we need continued investment in our transportation infrastructure to keep the wheels of commerce turning.

The Salt Lake Chamber’s Utah Transportation Coalition recently commissioned a study showing that Utah will see a significant payoff from continued investment in transportation. You can find the full study here and you can find an executive summary here.